What makes for conservatism? Is it a stiffening of attitude against chaos? Is conservatism a vote for order? Is order a fascist desire? Is chaos democracy? Ending short sentences with a question mark can be irritating. It is provocative. Like an attack dog on a leash, but an attack dog nonetheless. A pushback against those that would disrupt and overthrow cannot be morally wrong. It is the bane of power to have to confront the rabble. Even the powerless masquerading as ignorant rabble. The rabble expects it. Not being put down spoils its aim. It needs the baton blow raining down on its back for its legitimacy. What does a provocateur do if it is ignored, or worse, treated kindly? It starts to be emasculated. It is stripped of power and salience. This, shudder, shudder, is the Gandhian philosophy. Along with it comes the trappings — fasts, protests, blockades.
It is the reason that a so-called pluralistic democracy refuses to let go of the old man’s methods. Rapists, let alone the self-styled democrats, are deprived of their sense of dominance without the outrage their actions provoke. Murderers are stripped of meaning and mindfulness. Perverts are forgiven. Unfairness is condoned. It is the ultimate subversion.
When Jesus Christ practised it, dying on the cross to underline his intent, he established a religion that thrived on persecution and wilted without its sense of guilt and sin. In the hands of unbelievers or the lapsed it was nothing but empty cathedrals. Good for AA meetings, and classical music concerts for its acoustics. Pacifism in the face of aggression is revolutionary. Yes, but it is also a thwarting of karma that cannot go unpunished. And that is why, enigmatically, no good deed ever does go unpunished. The implication being that the ethical or good is just as premeditated as deliberate evil doing. Nothing is accidental or spontaneous. Doing good is a desire to overcome. It wants to win the battle, just as much as its opposite.
Communists call this ebb and flow, this rubbing up of opposing viewpoints, the dialectic. It is grist to the mill of progress. Of course, it is seen, the communist progress towards the goal of universal equality has many holes in it. Still, in less than a century, it has narrowed the gap between great disparities.
A pricking of conscience can only happen to humans because it is apparently the only species that has a conscience. But wouldn’t it be a travesty of justice if it is found out that other creatures — animals, plants, birds, fishes, etc — have finer sensibilities too? What if they have feelings that approximate, and are tantamount, expressed in nature in all its nobility, starkness and subtlety. Humanity can stop putting on airs.
But what can move forward the march of civilisation? Is it questioning and challenging of the vested interests? Is it the unfolding of an ideology that brooks no opposition? Are great ideas the vehicles of ultimate destiny? Or is destiny made up of the stabs of predatory dominance? What ultimately prevails? Or is it a combination, of the old imperial bell, book and candle?
Are burning of libraries and destruction of civilisational evidence a boorish crime, or the tools for a great cleansing? How can one order supplant another otherwise?
What is moral in the conservatism that wishes to establish its version of order by vanquishing the chaos engendered by its challengers? How is a bloodthirsty Maoist less deserving of his brand of coercion? Is the innate aggression and need to convert of Abrahamic religions moral? How can it be though, when it negates free will to the maximum extent possible, out of a dogmatic view of its own superiority.
Are we condemned to live in our chosen silos of belief in an eternal battle of civilisations? Might as right. It has been seen to be the solution throughout history, however nasty it may sound. We are wasting energy by seeking justifications when overwhelming the opposition is the only task. It is the great persuader on the path to victory. Everyone cannot win at the same time. The losers must accept their fate. And the winners must rejoice, even as they shrug off the labels fashioned by the vanquished.
But are we in an age when total victory is no longer possible? Too many forces cross each other out, balance powers and possibilities. It is a relative advantage that we must leverage. The implication is flux, of course. But then, how permanent were previous victories over the centuries for that matter? The seeds of a challenge are sown at the moment of triumph. After that, it is a season.
What then is the efficacy of conservatism? Through the ages, it has been seen to be a bulwark against barbarians at the gate. It uses traditions, rituals of permanence, as reassurance for itself. It upholds and seeks continuity. It resists overthrowing even as new orders that supplant it play out their version of the same aspirations. It is perhaps an instinct of survival. To endure, as little changed by force as possible.
In India today, we are experiencing a shifting of the tectonic plates. The basis that has served us for over seven decades is found to be a spurious importation in the main. Without the officers that tended those hedges, the garden has been lost to the wilderness. There is a deeper and earlier identity that is more attuned to the demands of the 21st century, paradoxical as it may sound. The older culture is less restrictive, broader in scope, more inclusive of our millions of people. It is perhaps for this very openness that it was overthrown by a series of pointed conquests. But happily it never died. Today, when its votaries are back on top, it has found a new relevance. This is the essence of conservatism. That which endures and can keep up with the changing times.